Saturday, April 28, 2012

Wedding anniversary reflections

It's October 25, 2003. It's early in the morning on a gorgeous fall Saturday morning. I pull into a park-n-ride to meet a group of people I don't know to go on a hike on Mt. Pilchuk. As I pull into a parking space, I spy a very cute girl getting stuff from the trunk of her car. I think to myself that I hope she's going on this hike. She is. Her name turns out to be Aimee Richmond.
A quick kiss before the
wedding starts

We ride in the same car on the carpool ride to the trailhead (I arranged that intentionally). We chat. I like her. She seems more or less indifferent to me.

We begin the hike. Although her legs are MUCH shorter than mine and so she hikes a lot slower, I use the excuse of a healing sprained ankle to hike at her pace. We talk a lot, stop at the same places to take photos, and have a nice time. I ignore every other person in our group. At the top, she realizes that although I'm carrying a decent sized day pack, it's mostly full of camera gear and a bit short on food. She laughs at me and offers some of hers, but since hers is all healthy (I recall a bag of sliced bell peppers), I politely decline. She teases me some more, and soon we begin the hike back.

It's October 31, 2003. Halloween. We've agreed to meet at a singles party (cruise on Lake Union here in Seattle). I arrived to see quite a few girls dressed in various slinky and revealing costumes. I eventually find Aimee. She's dressed as a hockey player, complete with bulky pads, facemask, black eye and blacked out teeth. Clearly she's not operating on the idea that she needs to show a lot of sex appeal to meet guys. Go figure, she also has 4-5 guys surrounding her, chatting her up. Slightly daunted by my competition, I nonetheless approach her and say hi, hoping she remembers that we agreed to meet up here (though we did not go together, so it's not a date). She does remember, and I join the group.

"So, we did it. We're
married now."
It takes me more than half of the three hour cruise, but I eventually get rid of (outlast) the rest of the guys, and have Aimee to myself. We talk a lot. We have a few drinks. We even dance a little. After the party, we go grab a late-night breakfast at a nearby restaurant and I ask her if she'd like to join me on a drive to Leavenworth two days later. She agrees, and we have our first date.

It's March 17, 2004. We've just come back to my apartment after hanging out with some people for St. Patrick's Day. At one point I stop, look her right in the eyes and softly say, "Aimee, I love you." She smiles so sweetly, nods a little and says, "I love you, too." It is the first time we exchange those words.

It's April 2005. We're in San Diego on a long weekend trip. The last day we're there, we're sitting at an IHOP eating breakfast, and Aimee starts to cry (happily). I ask her if everything's alright, and she smiles and says yes, but offers no details. I let it go. A few days later, while having dinner with her, she tells me that she'd had an epiphany. She feels that God spoke to her that morning at IHOP and told her I would be the guy she'd marry. She hadn't felt that way about me before that point, but she knew it now.

I was caught off guard, and had received no such message from the Almighty. I had also passed the 'window' in which I'd wanted to get married and start a family. I had decided to stay single. But, I DID love her. I needed time.

She gave it to me, until she got tired of waiting and left me.

About four months later.

Two months after that, I reached a point of crisis and asked God for a sign, and I'll be damned, He gave it to me. The next day I told Aimee that if she still wanted me, I was ready. She did.
"She's Got a Way", by Billy Joel,
was our first dance

It's Thanksgiving Day, 2005. I called her father and asked his permission to marry Aimee. I tell him I will take great care of her, protect her, and provide for whatever she needed. I tell him I love her.

He gave me his blessing.

It's December 23, 2005. I officially proposed to her as we opened Christmas presents at my apartment (she was leaving for her parent's home in Indiana the next day). Although I was sure of her answer, I was still nervous. I needn't have been. She said yes.

It's April 29, 2006. I get dressed up in a tuxedo. Aimee gets dressed up in a pretty white dress. We meet at a gorgeoous stone church in Tacoma, WA (St. Luke's Episcopal Church). Aimee Richmond became Aimee Rhoads, and I became the luckiest S.O.B. alive.

Since that time, April 29 has come and gone five times. Each one was better than the one before it. Aimee gave 100% of herself to our marriage, and taught me how to do the same.

"Til death do us part." Wow, when you say that to someone, and you're in your 30's, you assume that will be SO far away, so long from where you are right now. You envison a long life together, raising children, building a life filled with happy memories (and some sad ones too - life isn't perfect for any of us). You imagine years of family vacations, date nights, soccer games, dance recitals, and other milestones.
We were so happy, and it only got better

You do not envision 'til death do us part' coming five and half years later.

You do not imagine having to sit your three year old daughter down and tell her mommy is dead.

And you do not imagine her telling you four months later that she wishes she'd died when mommy did so she could be in heaven with her.

There have been five great April 29th's since Aimee and I got married. On none of them did I ever think that April 29 would ever be such a sad, sad day.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

What did Rowan just say?!?!

Well, Rowan has certainly been more open about Aimee lately. Today she hit me with a REALLY good one...

Rowan: "Mommy used to take me to a park inside." (She was talking about an indoor playground)
Me: "That was fun wasn't it? I know you loved spending time with mommy."
Rowan: "Yeah. I wish I had died when mommy did."
Me, floundering: "I'm glad you didn't, sweetheart. That would make me even more sad."
Rowan: "Yeah, but then when you died we'd all be in heaven, and we'd be a family again."
[Oh dear God...]
Me: "Sweetheart, we're still a family now. I know it's different without mommy here-"
Rowan: "Yeah."
 Me: "-but we're still a family nonetheless. You and I are a family, and mommy is still part of our family even if she's gone. Plus, we have other members of our family too; aunts and uncles and cousins and your grandmas."

She didn't seem really convinced.

Rowan & Aimee
The vast majority of the time, I don't carry a lot of anger about Aimee's death. Doesn't do any good, and doesn't hurt anyone but the person who's angry. I have enough crap in my life that I don't need to hurt myself with pointless anger towards people who will neither know or likely care how I feel. But THIS? My little just-turned-four-years-old girl should NOT be thinking that she'd wished she'd died when her mommy did or that we're not a family anymore. She should HAVE her mommy. Her mommy should be HERE. We should still BE the family we were five months ago. And Rowan feeling what she's feeling and expressing what she's expressing right now makes me VERY angry.

Monday, April 23, 2012

"I want a new mommy"

As  is typical on the weekends, Rowan was awake and ready to start the day yesterday (Sunday) before I even wanted to think about opening my eyes. Luckily for me, Rowan has learned that I prefer her to come into my room softly and just climb onto my bed, and sometimes I can actually get her to stay there quietly for, oh, 30 seconds before she starts bugging me to get up.

This time though, she snuggled in to me and lay quietly, smiling at me. The she hit me with a statement out of nowhere:

"I want a new mommy."

While my mind spun for a response, I simply said, "You do?"

She replied, "Yeah, just like my old mommy, but a new one. Will my mommy come back?"

Before I get to my response, which I had ready by the time she said this, I'll say that Rowan actually asked for a new mommy before. She did so back in February, a couple of times, both times at bedtime when I think she missed Aimee a little more than normal. I don't recall what I said back then exactly, but it was to the effect that I understood. But she hadn't done it again since then. And she'd NEVER asked me if/when mommy was coming back.

So when she said "Yeah, just like my old mommy, but a new one. Will my mommy come back?" I answered her:

"Do you really want a new mommy?" She nodded.

"Well, sweetheart, maybe someday we'll have a new mommy here, but if we do, she won't be exactly like your old mommy. She'll be someone different, her own person, and she'll be special and love you very much. I do wish your old mommy could come back to us, but I'm afraid she isn't able to come back. She'll be in heaven forever. Eventually we'll all be there too, and then you'll see her again, and you'll be there with her forever and ever and never be apart from mommy ever again. And she will be SOOOO happy to see you-"

Is one of these clouds Aimee's?
"And I'll be so happy to see her! And I'll jump onto her cloud and give her a BIG hug and say 'MOMMY!'"

"And she'll say "ROWIE!" and give YOU a big hug!"

Rowan settled back in and smiled at the thought of "jumping  onto Aimee's cloud" and exchanging hugs with her mommy. And I was glad to that this particular conversation ended with a happy thought for Rowan to focus on. I felt pretty good about how that all went all day until at bedtime she asked me, "Will it take a long time for me to die?" (I'm pretty sure she meant 'will I live a long time?') She didn't ask the question with any fear in her voice, just curiosity. I told her she'd probably live a long, long life. She smiled and rolled on her side and said "Night Daddy."

Well, THAT'S enough for one day... A new mommy, Aimee's cloud, and Rowan dying. Geez, can't wait for Monday.

One last hug?

BEEP - BEEP - BEEP - BEEP - smack!

*silence, for nine minutes*

I hate my alarm clock.

One morning last week I hit the snooze button and immediately fell back to sleep. Sometimes when this happens I dream in that nine minute span until it goes off again. This was one of those times.

What I wouldn't give to hold
Aimee again...
I walk up to a doorway inside a house I do not recognize, but in which I seem to be perfectly at ease. As I get to the doorway I see Aimee sitting on a coach. There is either nothing else in the room, or I just don't see it. I just see Aimee and the couch. Aimee is sitting there, feet pulled up under her, smiling at me, not saying anything. In that moment I know that Aimee is dead, but it's as if she came for one purpose - to let me hold her one last time. I sense myself asking her if that's why she's there, although I do not hear myself speak, and I sense her answer in the affirmative, although she doesn't say a word. I walk to the couch, and sit down next to her, and wrap my arms around her. She returns the embrace. I know that I have to try and burn this into my memory, that this is my last chance to feel this, and even as I think this I also know that it's pointless because this isn't actually Aimee but just a dream, and that I'm not actually feeling HER, just my own fading memory of what holding her felt like. But that doesn't keep me from holding her and wishing I really could feel her, and even if this is just a shadow of reaility, one I'm in for a few brief seconds, I-

BEEP - BEEP - BEEP - BEEP - smack!

*silence, for nine more minutes*

I hate my alarm clock

PS. It should be noted that I don't believe Aimee actually came to visit me in that dream. I had no real sense of her presence, just my own memory of her. I don't know if people ever visit us from the dead. I tend to believe they do not, but I also won't tell others who are convinced that they've experienced such visitations that they're wrong. Who am I to say for sure? In any event, I'm sure that's not what happened here. It was just a dream.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Aimee's birthday dinner

Hi all, this will be a quick post. As many of you know, we had a birthday dinner for Aimee last Friday night. In fact, a few readers of this blog were there. But for those of you who were not, this is a quick recap.

"Happy Birthday Aimee, we will
never forget you!"
The evening was, in a word, wonderful. About 15 family members and friends met at Outback Steakhouse and had a nice dinner. We talked about Aimee, traded stories, and in general had a nice time. I made a wholly inadequate toast. Donna had some beautiful cards made up that she gave to everyone and said a few words. We had some cake, because a birthday party always needs cake. It was low-key, devoid of major emotional meltdowns (except by Rowan, at the very end of the night, because it was past her bedtime at that point), and had a spirit of fellowship of people experiencing a shared loss. In other words, it was exactly what I had hoped for.

My reason for having this event was simple - to remember Aimee's birthday in a way that invited others close to her to share in it and with each other. Burdens are lighter when carried with the help of others, and with Aimee's birthday, I just had this sense that the 'others' in my and Aimee's and Donna's circles could really use each other. I think I was right. And I truly appreciated all of those who were there in person or in spirit.

Considering why we were there, it was a pretty good night. I think Aimee would have approved.

PS: For those who don't know, there's a reason I picked Outback as a venue other than just that I like the food. I worked for them for almost 11 1/2 years, up until Aimee found out she was pregnant with Rowan. During the time we dated and the first year of our marriage, she would often come in late in the evening when it typically wasn't too busy, and sit at the bar and tease me/flirt with me while I worked. I really enjoyed seeing her, and many members of the staff there grew to love her (big surprise). So there was a really nice connection to her that I felt was recognized, even if just by me, by having her birthday dinner there.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

"You're handling this so well"

Many times over the last four months I've heard, "You're handling this so well." I always take this as a compliment, but I also am not exactly sure what that means. How does one normally handle the unexpected and tragic loss of a spouse? Fall into a drunken stupor? Lock themselves in their bedroom? Run away?

The point is, All of the above and more HAVE been done by people in this type of situation, and I think all of those approaches have their merits, at least for a little while. I'm not going to judge someone else for how they've handled the unimaginable train wreck that this type of event represents in your life. As for me, I've done none of those things (at least not yet). I've kept it together. Gone to work. Kept my daughter fed, bathed, dressed, and in school. Paid my bills. Yada yada yada. Am I some kind of superhero for that? Nope. Staying busy and focused on tasks is how I've coped. It's not better than someone else's way, it's just different. It's probably more logistically productive than some of the others, but that doesn't mean it was a better way to handle it.

The truth is though, I have appreciated hearing it. It's turned out to be one of the things that has motivated me on the harder days to keep my crap together and keep moving forward.

But it's also not always true.

Believe it or not, this is where we
eat dinner.
I can't keep my house straightened up. I AM paying my bills, but barely on time (and a few of them late). My dining room table has been a disaster, with the exception of a two-day span in February, since I got home from Florida. Same with the area around the fireplace. I probably wouldn't get the house cleaned at all, except for the incredible gift from my colleagues who all pitched in to pay a house cleaner who comes every two weeks and cleans most of my house. I'm lucky enough to have her through the end of July.

I have time to get this stuff done, I just can't seem to bring myself to do it. Sometimes I just sit and stare for long stretches and do absolutely nothing but wallow in the pain of this loss (never until after my daughter goes to bed though). My brain goes through 'hiccups' where I do really stupid stuff I wouldn't have done before. I'm eating like crap, and with my sprained ankle, I'm not burning off the calories. Hence, I've put on weight the last few months, and I wasn't exactly scrawny to begin with. What little I do get done at home happens just as I realize I need to go to bed, and then I'm up an extra hour making lunches, doing laundry, etc, and getting even less sleep than the few hours I'd left myself already. (This is also the time when I write most of these posts, like right now - it's 12:38am.) The lack of sleep, I'm sure, is a contributing factor to my space-brain and weight gain. I'm constantly fighting urges to engage in 'retail therapy' sprees I can not afford. And in what is without a doubt the most egregious offense, I STILL have not written thank-you notes to the many amazing people who provided meals, donated to the World Vision fund set up in Aimee's honor, or contributed to our daughter's college fund.

And that's not all. The loneliness is a killer. I ache for companionship, affection, laughter, all the great stuff that goes along with a healthy, loving relationship like Aimee and I had. It's been a real struggle for me, and I hate it.

So, maybe I am handling this well. Or maybe I'm just hiding it well.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Birthday letter to Aimee

Hey sweetheart,
Happy Birthday, my love. I know you can't read this, but I wanted you to know that even though you aren't here to celebrate your birthday, we're going to do so in your honor. I have a feeling you won't mind.
Hey Hon, you remember this hike through
the snow outside of Leavenworth?

You know, even though you're no longer with us, I still want you to know how much you meant to me this past year. Your love for me and for Rowan was so great and so wonderful that you've continued making us better people even though you're no longer here in person. Your presence is felt in every parenting moment I have with Rowan and in all the times your mom needs support that she would have gotten from you. When I feel myself getting frustrated or losing patience, I try to imagine how it'd make you feel if I lost my patience with one of our/your loved ones. I always said you made me a better husband and father than I would've been on my own. Seems like you're still doing that, even now. And Rowan's reactions to some things, and the way she handles certain situations, that's got you written all over it too. You did a great job as a mom. I'll try my best to continue what you accomplished with her.

The last four months have been so hard, but the legacy you've left has kept me going, as well as many others, I'm sure. I know that sometimes you felt burned out and wondered if you made a lasting difference. Oh Love, you certainly did. More than you'll ever know.

I can't even begin to tell you how much I miss you. It's not more or less because it's your birthday, it's a great big hole in my life every day. When we married we became one, and losing you has been like having a huge chunk of my body ripped off, leaving the rest unsure how to continue. But so far, I'm managing. Not easily or happily, but managing nonetheless. Much of the strength I find comes from my love for Rowan and the knowledge that at three years of age, she needs me. I can't truly honor your memory if I don't do everything in my power for her, now can I? So I live for her until I can also find the strength to fully live for myself once again as well.

I love you Aimee, love you so much. I dream of you, imagine you're here, ache for you daily.

Not the happiest of birthday wishes, I know, and I'm sorry for that. But I wanted you to know unequivocally how much you meant to me, and I hope that on your birthday, that sentiment might bring you some happiness.

Happy Birthday, Aimee. I love you.


PS: I hope you're celebrating at the grandest all-you-can-eat-for-eternity sushi bar up there in heaven. :)

Friday, April 6, 2012

Practical advice

Of those of you who follow this blog, I know there are some who have gone or are going through similar circumstances in your own life. So some of the things I am going to write about in this post may be lessons you already know. For the rest of you, please read on.

There are certain axioms in life that most of us know to be true, but we don't realize just HOW true until faced with the exact set of circumstances that bring those truths to light. Having gone through one of those experiences recently, I am going to share with you some advice, exhortations really, that I knew before but REALLY know now. Please heed the words I write, in whatever way they may apply to you.

She doesn't worry about her
future, but I do
Get covered. If you are married or have anyone financially dependent on you now or in the future, do this now if you haven't already: Get. Life. Insurance. (I hate talking about my finances publicly, but I'm willing to be open about mine to prove a necessary point here.) Aimee insisted we get insurance after Rowan was born. I knew she was right, but I probably would have put it off. She didn't. Within a few weeks, she had a policy on both of us. Let me tell you, that saved my ass. When she died, our family lost between 1/3-1/2 of the income, depending on the type of month she'd had. There's no way I could have made the mortgage payments, or meet many other household expenses. But her insurance allowed me to pay off the house, plus keep some money on hand to cover other costs. It won't last forever. In fact, it probably won't last all that long at all. But it's helping a lot right now, that's for sure.

Be prepared. Have a will and powers of attorney drawn up. In the week after Aimee's death, one of the big questions for me was what arrangements she'd wanted for her body. For the life of me I couldn't remember, even though I knew we'd talked about it. Turns out, I didn't have to remember, because she'd put it in her will, which I got from our safe deposit box. She also spelled out a few other specific wishes she'd had, which meant no wondering or potential fighting over things. What a humongous relief that was to me.

Live your @&^%# life, ok? Rowan and I were looking at pictures today, and saw a picture from the aquatic center where we'd last seen Aimee. We talked about how that was the last time we saw mommy. And it dawned on me, not for the first time since Aimee's death, that the old saying about how life is short and you never know when it's your time are all a LOT more true than we really accept. We know that's true, but we don't ACT like it's true. Now I know that we can't all run off and live like we're going to die tomorrow, because would any of us really go to work or pay our bills? I sure as hell wouldn't. I'd take one last trip to Paris or fly to China to walk on the Great Wall. Or maybe I'd gather my family around and we'd all tell great stories about the 'old days'. Whatever it is, I wouldn't be schlepping to work on the bus if I knew those hours were among my last on earth.

But still, as hard as it is, when you are with or talking to someone you love, keep in the back of your mind that you might never see them again. Because as unfathomable as it seems, it's the honest-to-God truth that what happened to me can happen to anyone. Believe me, when I chatted with Aimee through that fence, and kissed her good-bye through it, I never imagined that was my kiss GOOD-BYE. I had no clue that when I saw her one last time a few minutes later and waved to her as she got ready to leave for the boat that I was waving her off to eternity, no idea that that glace was the last time I'd lay eyes on her in this life. Don't think that could happen to you? In one swift moment of a car accident, or brain aneurysm, or heart attack, or whatever, someone you love could be gone (though I PRAY that it doesn't).

And it's not just loving our loved ones. What about the stuff you've dreamed of doing? What the hell are you waiting for? Until you make more money or have more time or i easier? Stop making excuses! Life is flying by you right now, and every day you waste is another day you're not going to get back. If you get to the end of your life with any regrets, let them be regrets for some of the things you did, not things you wished you'd done. Again, I know you can't blow all your money on stuff and then not be able to pay your bills. But start making goals and saving up for the things you've always wanted to have or do. And many of those may not cost much money at all, like learning to play an instrument or speak a new language.

I know this sounds cliche'. But please don't just read this and agree with me in your mind but then resume putting stuff off. Get insurance, make a will, and value the days you have left on this earth and the people you're sharing them with.

Because you just never know which day, which moment, which kiss through a chain link fence, will be your last.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Vacation Paradox, Part II

Over the last few months, I've shared a lot about the pain I and others have gone through and are going through. There are several reasons I've been doing this. First, it seems to help me a LOT. Secondly, from what I'm hearing it's helping others a lot as well. I feel like there may be people reading this now or some time later who is going through something similar, and when they read some of the posts maybe they'll feel like they're not as alone in what they're going through, or that some of their own experiences make sense contextualized with someone else's. Who knows, I just want this to help someone else, if possible. Plus, I plan to save all of this one day for Rowan, so that she can read what we went through and add it to her own experience when she gets older (if she's interested, that is).

But one of the things I realized is that because this blog is focused on pain, that's all you ever see in my life. And there is a lot of that, make no mistake. But all of life is NOT pain. Not even my life right now. This mini vacation I just took with Rowan is an example of that.

"C'mon, Daddy, let's do this again!"
In my post the other day, I recalled so many activities we did that were like deja vu of things we'd done in Florida, and I talked about how tough that was. Well yesterday was a very different day. We filled it with some new stuff, and there were no deja vu moments to be found. In fact, we discovered that Rowan has a deep affinity for... bumper cars! Oh yes, my sweet little angel has a rough streak in her as well (she comes by it naturally!). "Get THAT one, Daddy!!!" she'd yell, pointing at yet another soon-to-be victim of our rampaging in the bumper car venue. We rode them at least a dozen times, probably more, throughout the day, and only about 15 minutes before they closed did Rowan finally seem satisfied that we'd caused enough carnage. I've rarely been as proud as a father. :)

The point is, we had a good day. We had fun, laughed a LOT, and really enjoyed ourselves and each other. Days like this are too few right now, but that makes them all the more precious. I will remember yesterday for a long time, because it was filled with the kind of memories I've set out to try and create for Rowan. I want her to know that the pain of her mommy dying may be there with her all the time, but that doesn't mean that it has to rule us every minute. I want her to see that you can still live, enjoying life and the experiences that it offers. You can still find those moments when laughter takes over and you giggle yourself silly because some other daddy and his little girl just got blind-sided by the psychotic bald guy and his equally maniacal (while clad in pink kitty-cat raincoat) three year old daughter who's now yelling and pointing at another hapless victim, "Go get THAT one now, Daddy!!!"

Monday, April 2, 2012

The vacation paradox

This week is Rowan's spring break, so I am taking the first three days off and we've gone to Seaside, Oregon for a little mini-vacation. It's our first 'vacation' of any sort since our trip to Florida last December. I've wanted to work on building good memories for Rowan and I, despite the sad feelings we struggle with every day. Seemed like a great idea. I picked the Oregon coast because it's beautiful, and I figured there's plenty to do that would help me amuse a three year old girl. After all:

There is an aquarium here, and Rowan really enjoyed the one in Key West. Plus, you can feed the sea lions here, just like you could feed the fish at the one in Key West. And they both have a 'touch tank' to play with some of the sea life.

Of course, there's also a beach, which Rowan enjoyed when we were in the Keys.

Rowan and I shortly before going to the
aquarium in Seaside
And Rowan's favorite activity, hands down, is playing in the hotel pool. Again, I knew this would be a win, since her favorite activity in Florida had been playing in the pool at the house we stayed in.

God only knows HOW I didn't see this coming.

I'm having a nice time with Rowan, but this trip has made me incredibly sad. So many activities are like dark, shadowy reflections of four months ago. When we left the aquarium, I was so sad it felt like a huge, lead weight I was being forced to carry. Rowan had had a blast feeding the seals, and I was glad for that. But some of my favorite photos from Florida are ones I took of Aimee and Rowan exploring stuff in the touch tank there, and doing the same thing here was just so damn hard.

Playing in the pool has been just as bad, and Rowan wants to do that CONSTANTLY. All I can think about is the fun we all had in the pool in Florida.

Of course, add onto this the fact that any fun activity with Rowan makes me miss Aimee. I keep feeling like Aimee should be here to share this with us, to see Rowan's fun and learning and joy. To steal secret smiles and jokes and kisses with me. To create memories that we'll talk about later and use to plan other fun family vacations.

I miss Aimee so much.  :(